Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.
The smallest of birds often provide the biggest entertainment.
I’m talking about hummingbirds, of course, and they are big, big on personality even if they are small in stature, weighing in at about an eighth of an ounce. Yes, a small fraction of an ounce, which is the smallest American standard of weight. Thank goodness for the metric system so we can put a whole number on this tiny dynamo. Hummingbirds weight about 2 or 3 grams, about the same as a penny. Not a handful of pennies or five pennies — one penny.
I have been enjoying immensely watching hummingbirds this spring and summer at my backyard feeder and in the garden now that the flowers have bloomed – at least those that the deer didn’t get to. The only problem is that “my” hummingbirds are very territorial. Usually I see only one male at or near the feeder with the occasional female showing up, too. That was especially true this spring. They are not quite as territorial now, but are still very feisty toward other hummingbirds that show up.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the fall as last year the feeder was dominated by one female. She tolerated nothing from other hummingbirds, even those that dared fly over the house in the general vicinity of the feeder. Will the male remain and dominate, or will he fly off and the female dominate? Or will the male stick around and the female push him out? Or will they tolerate each other and share the sugar water, which is my hope. Or … OK, enough ors for now. As I said, we’ll see what happens.
If you don’t have hummingbirds that act like they own the feeders, you have a greater likelihood of seeing hummingbirds in late summer or fall because of simple mathematics. In the spring the adults pass through or settle in our area. In late summer and into fall we have all the adults that survived these last few months and all the young hummingbirds, too.
Since I moved to my new house about a year ago I’ve had a pretty steady run of seeing hummingbirds. I don’t get four or five hovering around the feeder, as I mentioned, but there is usually at least one hanging around every day.
Prior to the move I had the worst luck attracting hummingbirds. Looking back, I can see why. One house was too wooded. Hummingbirds like a little open space to scope out predators. Another house had too much open space. That sounds contradictory, I know, but too much open space leaves them vulnerable, too.
Now I appear to have a better mix of open space and trees on which they can perch to keep look out. It’s fun to try to tempt the hummingbirds closer. When I have the time to relax on the back deck, I remove the feeder from its typical location on one of the hooks of the feeding station and move it to the deck railing. Then, after a few visits, I move the feeder to a little end table on the deck. Finally, I place it at the end of the lounge chair at my feet and wait for the next visit. After a few tentative moments, the tiny bird eventually comes for the sugar water and perches comfortably. It’s amazing to hear the wings buzz and watch the bird hover near the feeder. I have video I took with a cell phone on YouTube. You can find it at my website www.birdsofnewengland.com
Now for a little general information about New England hummingbirds.
We’ve all heard that the only species that is seen east of the Mississippi is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. That is true, sort of. It’s true in a general sense, but not a literal one. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the one seen the vast, vast majority of the time in New England, but the occasional western species strays into our territory from time to time.
During the fall and even early winter, New England plays host to the stray Rufous or Calliope Hummingbird. The other winter a Black-chinned Hummingbird visited a yard in Fairfield and remained for several days, surviving on late-blooming pineapple sage.
But for all intents and purposes, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the species you’ll typically see in New England. They feed at backyard feeders, of course, but also on the various wild flowers New England has to offer. Visit a patch of jewelweed (touch-me-not) in late summer or fall and I guarantee you’ll see a hummingbird. (I don’t really guarantee it; it just made that last sentence so much stronger.)
Hummingbirds will also, of course, visit garden flowers. They say, quite accurately I’ll add, that hummingbirds are attracted to tubular flowers, especially red, pink, orange and purple ones. But I’ve seen hummingbirds at coneflower, day lilies, mint (gone to flower), butterfly bush and even sunflowers. I’m sure there are a dizzying array of other flowers that will attract hummingbirds. Send me your best ones at the email below. I’d love to create a list of flowers that attract hummingbirds from my readers. Feel free to repeat flowers I’ve already listed.